Part 1: International Users
Two months ago, Second Life creator Linden Lab removed the credit card requirement from the account creation process, allowing users without a credit card to join SL for the first time. While the move was met with alarm and opposition among many members of the SL community, it was part of an ongoing plan to open access to Second Life, a plan which has been opposed by many vocal residents at nearly every step of the way, their outrage then forgotten as the next phase has been unveiled.
In a blog post shortly after the initial announcement, Community VP Robin Linden attempted to explain Linden Lab’s position, rationale and intended security measures, addressing the general opinion among the Second Life forums’ users. Forums being what they are, she was likely only partly successful in getting this message across to Second Life’s vocal minority.
Regardless of resident opposition, the policy was changed, and registration was opened up to everyone. With broadband. And a fast computer. And adequate manual dexterity. And who could communicate in English to some degree. So while perhaps not the vast majority that the most optimistic people predicted, it was certainly about to become more accessible to users outside Canada, the US, Australia and the UK, thus fitting in with Linden’s plans to expand Second Life’s user base into Asia and Europe.
So, after two months of open registration, has Linden Lab’s plan been successful? Obviously, with Japanese and Korean job postings on Linden Lab’s employment page, and the recent move to an XML-based client UI –allowing for the simple production of translated clients– we can assume that the â€œOpen SLâ€ master plan is not yet completed.
But what has transpired in the interim? According to Chromal Brodsky’s Second Life Population Statistics site, the number of total accounts has jumped sharply since registrations were made free in April, and mandatory account verification was removed in June, with over 370,000 accounts registered as of this writing. However, as Chromal’s site indicates, the growth of peak concurrent logins over the last year is barely even perceptible as a curve.
We can interpret this discrepancy in several ways, all of which are likely involved to varying degrees:
- That far more alt accounts are being made and not used concurrently with the existing resident’s main account.
- That peak concurrent logins have been largely unchanged, due to the demographics of Second Life’s user base. This means the number only reflects peak logins for North Americans. While anecdotal observations indicate Europeans and South Americans are now joining SL in vastly increased numbers, Chromal’s graphs don’t currently indicate whether or not there are more unique logins per day, nor whether logins are higher at typically peak hours for users from other time zones.
- More users are creating accounts, but are not able to run the client.
- More users are successfully creating accounts, but do not use SL as frequently as typical active users do. This may be due to several factors:
- Users who may not otherwise have cared enough to try SL are joining, but use SL more casually.
- Non-English-speaking users create accounts, but do not find enough people that speak their language to interact with to make them want to stay as long.
- New residents percieve SL’s value as being lower. If someone pays $10 for an account, they will likely think of it differently than if they give a credit card number, or than if they do neither. This behavior may also be due to the sunk cost fallacy: if the $10 registration cost can be viewed as an investment, someone may still want to use SL to â€œget their money’s worthâ€. They may be less willing to do this if the account hasn’t actually cost them anything.
Hard data aside, what anecdotal evidence is there to support an increase in the number of international users?
As a longtime member of the Second Life Mentor group, I’ve taught classes, answered questions, mostly about scripting, and generally been subject to much Mentor group IM spam. Since the removal of credit card verification, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of requests for assistance on Help Island, the â€œwading poolâ€ SL newbies can use to get their bearings for a few minutes or a few days before taking the plunge to the big kid pool of the mainland. These are now mostly requests for translators who speak Spanish, Turkish, Russian, or a dozen other languages.
While obviously I’m not privy to the specific numbers, the fact that the bulk of Mentor IM seems now to be requests for multilingual mentors effectively demonstrates that the removal of credit card verification has succeeded in at least one of its goals, and one I wholeheartedly support.
Update, August 7, 6:15 PM: Chromal has graciously provided all available data from the past 13 months, and notes that while the peak concurrency rate has risen from 2127 in June 2005 to 8357 in August 2006, the minimum concurrency rate has risen from 647 to 3671 in that same period.
The maximum number of concurrent logins is 3.93 times higher than it was 13 months ago, while the minimum is now 5.67 times higher. Interesting stuff.
Verified Accounts and Trust Metrics Part 2: What Went Wrong?